How does the Vatican elect a new pope? 7 things to know about a conclave

What, exactly, is a conclave? And how does it work? Here are 7 key points to understanding how the Vatican prepares to elect a pope.

7. How much influence will Benedict have over the conclave?

The Vatican says he won’t have any influence. Officials insist he will not interfere or try to sway cardinals in their choice of his successor.

"He will say absolutely nothing about the process. He is a very discreet person,” Father Federico Lombardi, the Vatican spokesman, said on Tuesday. “You can be sure the cardinals will be autonomous in their decision and he will have no role." 

But of the 118 cardinals who will vote, 67 were appointed by Benedict during his eight-year papacy. 

That will ensure that he has indirect influence on the choice of the new pontiff, Vatican experts say.

The fact that he will continue to live and work in the Vatican after his resignation will also cast a shadow over the cardinals as they discuss who to choose as pope in the conclave.

"These are unchartered waters. We have never had an election in which a former pope was still alive," says Robert Mickens, Vatican correspondent and columnist for The Tablet, an international Catholic weekly newspaper. "By resigning, he has assured that he can have an influence on who becomes his successor. One of his guys is probably going to be elected pope.

"It will be psychologically difficult for the cardinals to vote for someone who wants to take the church in a very different direction than Benedict. They won't feel as free to make their decision as they would have had he died."

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